In the second of her three articles about parenting, Sarah Wheatley, Edinburgh-based counsellor, summarises the foundations on which her experience showsÂ good parenting is built.
I was recently supporting a new mum when she asked me a really interesting question: â€œWhat do you look for when youâ€™re working with new parents?â€ It struck me that this is really useful information for any new parent (or anyone supporting them), so I thought Iâ€™d share it.
Obviously everyone is has a different personality and unique circumstances, but there are areas that I check out with all the mothers I work with, the â€˜Five Pillars of Parenthoodâ€™, which are true whether you are pregnant or have a teenager. So here they are:
Confidence â€“ are you confident, and what affects your confidence?Â
Feeling confident seems ridiculously easy to those who feel confident and ridiculously hard to those who donâ€™t. Unpicking what makes you feel more or less confident as a new parent can be really helpful, as then you know what your own triggers are, and what you can do to grow that confidence.Â For some parents, itâ€™s about being surrounded by likeminded others. For others, itâ€™s about having time and space to be with their baby.
Losses â€“ what losses have you experienced and how do you feel about them?
Becoming a parent involves losses, at every stage. During pregnancy you can lose the sense of your body being the way it was. Giving birth might involve the loss of the birth you wanted, or a loss of dignity or control. Having a newborn can involve a loss of a sense of autonomy or space. You might feel the loss of work, or your work colleagues. Or a loss of a sense of control.
None of these losses is wrong or negative â€“ however how you feel about them can affect your enjoyment of your new role or even your baby. Finding ways to acknowledge and mourn these losses is important.
Bonding with your baby â€“ do you have a sense of what your baby is communicating?
Being a new parent involves starting a relationship with a person who doesnâ€™t communicate through words but through their behaviour.Â For some parents this can feel like learning a new language with no dictionary! Observing your baby, touching them, interacting with them and watching how they respond gives you some of the best tools to start bonding with your baby, and develop a sense of satisfaction in that relationship.
Competence â€“ do you feel competent as a new parent?
Starting a new job, you might hope to get some sort of induction, even if thatâ€™s only someone showing you how to use the photocopier. When you become a parent you might have practiced putting up your buggy or putting a nappy on a doll, but there are so many things to learn as a new parent that it can be easy to feel like a failure. Recognising how much you are learning in a short space of time (e.g. how to bath a slippery, crying newborn, or how to feed an overtired infant) can help you recognise how much you are learning each day. Celebrate your achievements, and keep reminding yourself how far you have come.
Support â€“ what relationships and other support do you have around you?
Not all of us have partners or family around us who can help out when the baby arrives. This doesnâ€™t mean that new mothers canâ€™t access support, but it might take a bit more creative thinking. It can be useful to look at what kind of support you need, and what resources you have that can make that happen. Whether itâ€™s a local health visitor, a cleaner, a doula, a church group who provide home-made meals or a counsellor, there are a variety of ways of having your support needs met, once you have identified them.
These pillars are all closely interconnected, and when you are feeling unstable in one of these dimensions, it can affect all the others. If youâ€™d like to know more about any of these in more details, please do get in contact.
A version of this article first appeared on Sarah’s website, www.birthandbeyond.org.ukÂ . You can also follow Sarah on Twitter @parentkind
(Heading picture of Taichung Lord, courtesy of Creative Commons Licence)